[Marxism] Charlie Schwartz and Richard Levins exchange
michael at ecst.csuchico.edu
Thu Mar 16 20:55:02 MST 2006
Lou, as a fellow fan of the People's History of Science, you know that
Conner shatters Schwarts's story.
On Thu, Mar 16, 2006 at 10:23:58PM -0500, Louis Proyect wrote:
> (Fascinating exchange between Richard Levins and Charlie Schwartz on the
> Science for the People Mailing list connected to a thread on Islam and
> science. Schwartz is physics professor emeritus at Berkeley. Levins is at
> Harvard. Co-authored "Dialectical Biologist" with Richard Lewontin.)
> Richard Levins trying to explain the rise of Europe:
> "Yes, but also recall that incipient developments toward capitalism in 15th
> century China ( with the explorations of Cheng Ho) were suppressed by the
> court and crushed definitively by the Manchu conquest."
> Charlie Schwartz resonds:
> There is a story I heard many years ago about something that happened in
> Portugal in the 15th century. It seems that a low ranking son of the king
> was interested in science and he established a research center which
> specialized in developing techniques for more effective ocean travel. One
> of their successes was learning how to keep water drinkable for longer
> voyages: 500 miles was the new span of their ships and you can see on a map
> how they (the Portugese) then established colonies in Africa at
> Guinea-Bissua, Angola and Mozambique - colonies that lasted for 500
> years! And when Columbus did his thing, the experts at that research
> enclave immediately understood what it meant and were able to get Portugal
> effective in the New World.
> So much for the (impotent) role of the ruling class in science.
> But there is a second chapter to this story. It seems that England decided
> that this Portugese science laboratory was important. So they sent a
> military expedition down there to steal everything they thought valuable
> and destroy what was left. And that, according to this story, led to the
> birth of the most esteemed Royal Society.
> Where did I hear this amazing story? It was from my an MIT classmate, Hans
> Mark, who went on to be Secretary of the Air Force and Chancellor of the
> University of Texas. When he told this ripe old tale in my class many
> years ago, I congratulated him for his sophisticated Marxist view of
> history; to which he responded with all sorts of denials.
> Does anyone else know this story? Is it accurate? What does it mean in
> terms of this debate over the understanding of how science became
> most powerful in Europe?
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